May 102018


Nineteenth Annual General Meeting: 13 March 2018


Welcome to the 19th AGM of the Ball Clay Heritage Society.

As usual I would like to update you with what the Society has been doing over the last twelve months.

The General Committee met in July, October and February. The only change in the membership of the committee was the resignation of Cllr Chris Meathrel, who had been nominated as a committee member by Kingsteignton Town Council, and his replacement by Cllr Bill Thorne, whom we are very pleased to welcome to the Committee.

At our last AGM we had a very interesting talk by Helen Turnbull on “The Cliffords of Ugbrooke Park”, reminding us that various generations of the family were rather distinguished and important for reasons other than their clay leases and the collection of dues paid by the ball clay merchants for their use of the Hackney Canal.

In June last year we mounted an exhibition in Newton’s Place – the former St Leonard’s Church – for an open day when members of the public could view the building and see the preliminary plans for its conversion into the Town museum and community centre. The Newton’s Place project is progressing and we are hopeful that there will be space in the final layout for a permanent display relating to the ball clay industry. We have been approached by Devon Archives in Exeter as to the future storage of our archive material and collection of photographs, but our preference is for these to be kept in Newton Abbot if possible. There is a debate about whether the organ should be retained in Newton’s Place, but this would significantly reduce the space for the storage of archive material and historic objects that could not otherwise be kept.

In September we had a display at the Stover Canal Trust open weekend. We made use of the ‘pop-up museum’ that was created as part of a project by Johanna Korndorfer and Mandy Biscoe a few years ago. It doesn’t exactly ‘pop-up’ and in fact it’s rather heavy but it has some good features. We have now taken possession of it.

As I am sure most of you have seen, Darrin Hewings has arranged for one of our steel underground mining wagons to be placed on the roundabout at the beginning of Clay Pits Way, displaying mystery numbers that change from time to time! He has also organised the re-assembly of the Fuchs underground mining machine which he is going to place on the roundabout as if it is feeding clay into the wagon. I am not sure how far Devon Highways tolerance stretches, but ultimately it is hoped to place some steel arches over the wagon and mining machine so that motorists can enjoy an open air mining museum as they drive around the roundabout.

I am pleased to say that the ‘Devon Remembers’ project on the local ball clay industry in the First World War was completed in December. This involved a lot of research by Richard Harris, John Ellis and myself into local newspapers, military tribunal reports and thousands of pages of correspondence contained in the Watts Blake Bearne letter books of the period. The product of our work is a timeline in chronological order of 65 pages of extracts from those documents and a chapter for the book that is to be produced as the final stage of the Devon-wide project. Apart from the main stories such as the calling up of clay workers and the consequences of the sinking by German submarines of many cargo vessels, it was fascinating to read the correspondence between CD Blake –- who was then aged about 80, the much respected senior partner with 55 years’ knowledge of the business, but completely blind and dictating a stream of letters by phone to Park House from his house Highgrove, a young Mr William Watts who went off to serve in Palestine and Arthur Bearne who with a handful of office staff was keeping the business going but regularly pressing Mr Blake to agree to pay another dividend.

We have provided our Devon Remembers project material to some local schools and hope thereby to generate more interest in the history of the ball clay industry. Darrin is also doing an excellent job giving talks on the history of the industry to local groups.

At the end of February Jane Chilvers of Sibelco opened up her secret store at Preston Manor of documents that she rescued from Park House when the office was closed in 2001, and I have selected a number of files and ledgers, including some very interesting records of plant and other assets, which I have added to our archive collection.

We are still very much missing the enormous contribution that Tony Vincent made to the Society. However I think we are getting closer to the point at which we will have volunteers who can resume the task of cataloguing out collection pf photographs. We are also looking for a new editor of our newsletter, Chris Meathrel having resigned.

Steve Carreck is making progress with the conversion of our   website to WordPress, which should make the content easier to manage, and has produced a number of revised pages for Committee members to review. We will need a volunteer to take on the job of managing the website and possibly also contributing photographs to the WBB Minerals Facebook pages.

Having almost exhausted our stock of our booklet “The Ball Clays of Devon and Dorset”, we have been able to purchase from Tor Mark another 150 copies, leaving only about 50 copies with Tor Mark.

Our social programme was confined to a very enjoyable skittles evening with Stover Canal Trust members in April, as unfortunately we were unable to follow up our very successful visit to Wolf Minerals tungsten mine at Drakelands in October 2016 with another Society visit. However Wolf Minerals have now themselves resumed public visits for individuals to join. We now have a talk by Richard Harris on the Hackney Canal and Quay arranged for 8thMay, and a visit to Sibelco’s South Devon ball clay works on 3rd July. We are also hoping to arrange a guided walk of the Stover canal with John Ellis to see the restoration work at Graving Dock Lock and Ventiford Basin.

The Teignmouth and Shaldon Museum continues to display several of the Society’s small artefacts in its ball clay industry display, and Newton Abbot Museum continues to display the Society’s Bronze Age spear head and some other objects.

We welcome your comments and suggestions regarding what the Society does or should do. We would especially like your views on future talks and outings. Anyone interested in researching or just browsing through our collections of archive material and photographs will always be very welcome at Dunderdale Lawn.

John Pike
13 March 2018